There are a few writers I follow, visiting regularly their sites, buying every book, waiting eagerly for the next one.. Nina Revoyr is one of them. I can’t remember if I discovered her through her second book, Southland or the first one, The Necessary Hunger. Initially I picked them up because they were set in Los Angeles, a place I was (and am still) exploring, trying to make sense of the city and of my experience in the city. And a good part of The Necessary Hunger is set in Inglewood, a place I know well for family reasons, while I go accross Southland setting every time I drive to work. But if place affinities can make me leaf through a book, what caught me was the writing, the atmosphere, and last the plot (I’m one of those readers for whom plot is not essential). Place is also at the heart of The Age of Dreaming, Revoyr’s third novel: Los Angeles, Hollywood, Little Tokyo are the neighborhood haunted by Jun Nakayama, a silent movie actor from the nineteen-twenties, fallen out of fame. Although these stories are suspenseful, breathtaking at times, extremely well plotted, what really kept me prisoner of them were the characters, strong, thick, multi-faceted, never predictable. They are so humanly fraught that it is hard to really dislike any of them, and every time I just want more and more of them, beyond the epilogue, beyond the last page.
So, when I discovered that «a new Revoyr» was coming out, I immediately pre-ordered it, a way for me to make sure I’ll get the book as soon as it is out, as well as to schedule a unexpected treat: by the time it arrives, I usually have forgotten all about it, and it comes as a surprise… So, when at the beginning of February I opened the package and discovered Wingshooters, I was happy and anxious to dive in. Life and work delayed gratification, but finally I was able to shut myself within its pages. And, as for the preceding ones, the magic happened. Wingshooters does not take place in Los Angeles, but in Deerhorn, Central Wisconsin, in a country of hunters and farmers, where one of the top citizen is Earl Watson, who owns the gun store, and the main gathering spot for the oder – wise – men of the community is Jimmy’s Coffee shop. The narrator in the story is Michelle, a nine year old girl, born in Tokyo from a Japanese mother and an American father, who, by the time the story starts, have abandoned her, too tangled in their own conflict and separation. Left with her paternal grand-parents, she quickly discovers the dangers of not being white in a town that until her mother’s appearance, «had never in all the years of its existence, been home to a soul who wasn’t German, Polish, Norwegian, or French Canadian». Deerhorn prizes its insularity, and the county’s limits might just have been insuperable thick walls, keeping the seventies away from its inhabitants, who, if it wasn’t for TV, would never know what was happening in the rest of a country they do not seem to belong to anymore:
“While people in other parts of the country were growing their hair long and smoking pot and wearing polka dot ties and bell-bottoms, the people of Deerhorn dressed in overalls and drank cheap Wisconsin beer. And while there were stories on the nightly news about antiwar protests, women’s rights, the school busing crisis in Boston, and Watergate, these events seemed so distant and strange that they might have been taking place in a different country.”
And while Michelle’s arrival causes quite a stir in the small town, the fact that she is the grand-daughter of one of the most respected men in the community keeps people at bay. Bullied at school, she is cherished by her grand-father who takes her to his favorite lakes, hunting spots, and shares his dog. And Michelle’s foreignness is almost forgotten when comes to town the unthinkable: an African-American teacher is recruited to substitute in her school, while his wife works for the new county clinic as a nurse. Their fate is at the heart of the novel, and Michelle’s story is going to be entangled in theirs, pushing Deehorn and its inhabitants toward a reality it has so far denied.
Soon the reader knows something is going to happen, something bad probably, but difficult to predict. And while Michelle goes hunting, bikes all over town, walks through the wood with her dog, I felt more and more anxious, lost in between the ordinary of this country life, and the mounting hostility toward this couple, the harshness of the xenophobic, racist discourse, and the fake quietness of the rural environment. To the point that, to release my own tension, I had to skip ahead, figure out what was to happen, and then come back to where I was in the book, and resume my reading. It did not spoil my pleasure, but on the contrary, allowed me to savor Revoyr’s writing, to concentrate on Michelle adventures and thoughts, and admire the author’s command of her plot and characters. Like in her preceding books, the characters here are too complex to be simply liked or disliked all together, and I found myself able to relate to some I was not expecting, to respect some I should be despising: only one is never redeemed and incarnates the villain from beginning to end. And I was still able to enjoy my reading after digging out the main plot, because it is only one of the threads of the novel: others include Michelle’s own family issues, her relationship with her grand-father, with her grand-mother, her grand-parents and parents stories, her fight for life…
Wingshooters is a new attempt on Revoyr’s part to make sense of inter-racial relations, to retrace history and evolution of mentality in a country where people have been divided and defined by class and race more than they are willing to admit. And when Michelle, adult, does not rebel against her partner’s affirmation “I always forget that you are half-Japanese and half-redneck”, it might be because she is ready to assume the multiplicity of her identities, what comes with the mixing of races and places… and the fact that she chose to leave the Midwest and come to Los Angeles should not be a surprise: where could it be easier to live for somebody who did not fit, who did not really belong anywhere than in the Angeleno melting pot?